A divisive disease: Clashing treatments for HIV/AIDS in Swahili literature

  • Cristina Nicolini School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


The aim of this paper is to illustrate the historical evolution of the “clashes between epistemes in relation to the treatment of illness”, which characterize Swahili literary genres on HIV/AIDS (Nicolini 2022) through an exploration of Swahili novels. Therefore, I will investigate the epistemologies of a pandemic both analytically, by investigating both the knowledge of HIV/AIDS and the plural ways of treatment involved, as well as aesthetically and linguistically, by examining the metaphorical doubles of HIV/AIDS. Moreover, I will compare the metaphorical doubles of HIV/AIDS in Swahili literature to the metaphors in Anglophone literature from East Africa. Finally, I will conclude the study with a glance at the recent Covid-19 pandemic. The clash, between modern medicine and non-scientific knowledge(-s) in relation to the treatment of illnesses, seems also to be a continuous feature in the contemporary discussions dealing with Covid-19 circulating in the social media.


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Author Biography

Cristina Nicolini, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Cristina Nicolini, Ph.D., is a researcher in Swahili literature and culture as well as African philosophy. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in “Oriental and African Languages and Cultures – Arabic and Swahili” cum laude (University of Naples “L’Orientale” 2013); a Master’s degree in “Sciences of Languages, History and Cultures of Mediterranean and Islamic Countries” cum laude (University of Naples “L’Orientale” 2015); a II level Master’s degree in “Economics and Institutions of Islamic Countries” cum laude (LUISS Guido Carlo, Rome 2017); and a PhD degree  in “African Languages and Cultures” (SOAS - School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 2021). She has published a monograph (Clash of Epistemes. Knowledge of HIV/AIDS in Swahili Literary Genres. Trieste: EUT: 2022), as well as articles in peer reviewed journals such as: “Embe Dodo Mbivu Huishi Utamu:” Epistemology of Sensuality through Nyimbo za Unyago (the Songs of Unyago) from South-East Tanzania,” Ethnorêma. Lingue, Popoli e Culture 17/2021; “From VVU/UKIMWI (HIV/AIDS) to UVIKO-19 (COVID-19): An Epistemological analysis of Pandemics in Tanzania through Swahili Literature,” Kervan 25/2 (2021); and “Ritual Practices, Hypnotic Suggestions and Trance-like States in Swahili Written Literature,” Kervan 25/1 (2021).

Cristina can be reached at 656298@soas.ac.uk